Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Devoted to Ministry – 1 Tim 4:15

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. (NASB)
Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. (NKJV)

When it comes to ministry, Paul tells me that I should be very intense about it. When was the last time I took pains with anything? It generally isn’t my nature to do anything until it pains me. Other translations don’t make it sound this intense with words like meditate, diligence, and practice. Then I looked up mediation. Joshua was told in Joshua 1:8 to mediate day and night on the Word. Again, in Ps 1:2, I’m told that a blessed man will meditate on the Word day and night. I believe I’m greatly blessed, but I wonder how much more I would be blessed if I took these instructions seriously enough to work at and take pains in meditation on God’s word and what He wants.

Ps 63:1-8 is a great framework for what it takes to be devoted to ministry and meditation is at the center of it. It starts out with the attitude that I need to have if I’m going to meditate and do what God wants. I need to search for God earnestly. This can’t be a willy-nilly, catch-can, or when-I-have-time approach to seeking God. This has to be a quest in which I’m serious. I need to pursue knowing God with deep conviction and seriousness.
David said he faints for God like someone who is a desert land without water. Do I thirst for God? Do I understand that without enough of Him I would faint and even die? Until I meditate on my need for Him, I don’t really appreciate how much all that I am depends on Him. A thirsty man in a desert has only one thing on his mind and that is finding water. That is the way I should seek God in my meditation.

Meditation can also be seen in worship. For David, that started when he remembered seeing God’s glory and power in the sanctuary. David had pitched a tent for the Ark of the Lord in Jerusalem even though the official sanctuary with the altar for sacrifice was not there. David spent much time in this tent before the Ark. 2 Sam 12:15-20 records the time that he spent laying on the ground and fasting before the Lord pleading for his son’s life. Then after the boy died, he cleaned up and worshiped the Lord.
People throughout history have made up their own ideas about God. They believe that God should do things the way they think is best. From our own sinful nature, we formulate what God should be like. Have you ever heard someone say, “I couldn’t submit to, love, or obey a God who would send anyone to hell, let babies die, allow war, etc.” In saying this, they are essentially saying they know better than God does. They say that God is vengeful or wrathful but never loving.

David said that God’s steadfast love was better than life. For that reason, he would praise God and bless Him as long as he lived. I need to meditate on that to understand it better. Isn’t life the most important thing to us? Yet God’s love is better. That means that His love must surpass life, suffering, and even death. His love explains why He allows things we call evil. It even explains why He has reserved a place for everyone who doesn’t want to have anything to with Him. His love gives me reason to absorb myself in ministry.
Worship and praise can take many forms and one is when I lift up my hands to God. This is a sign of complete and utter surrender. I depend on God for all my being, for all my needs, and even my wants. When David did this, he found that his soul was satisfied just as he was physically satisfied by the richest foods. There is a huge difference in physically satisfaction and spiritual or soul satisfaction. God can provide both, but physical satisfaction is temporary and fleeting. Soul satisfaction last a lifetime and even beyond into eternity. It can only be found when I’m completely surrendered to God.

The TV image of meditation is someone sitting in a lotus position surrounded by candles and smoldering incense sticks. Meditation is not limited to special environments but quiet places certainly help. David meditated on his bed during the night watches as well as before the Ark. I can meditate in front of my computer as I write but not in front of the TV. I can meditate while doing yard work, but not as well as when I’m not distracted other activities.
As I meditate, I begin to understand just how much I depend on God. David describes God’s help as being under the shadow of His wings. Just as a bird protects its young from the heat of the day, rain, or predators, so God protects those that trust in Him. I understand that this protection isn’t always physical because there is more to His love and the reality that goes beyond this physical world. His protection means that when the adversary, Satan, prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 3:8), I can resist him with God’s help. It means that when temptations come, I can find the way out because He has provided it (1 Cor 10:13). I can’t do these things in my own power or strength.

When my soul clings to God, it is then that His right hand upholds me.

The problem with comparing my progress to others or even trying to impress others with my progress is that someone will always be doing better than I am and I can become envious or feel bad about my progress. Some will not advance as far as I have and I’ll feel proud. Paul recognized that he hadn’t come as far as possible. He knew that he still had a long way to go (Phil 3:12-14). Yet Paul saw the importance of progress that was visible. That progress served as an inspiration to other so that they would not only seek to do the same but also recognize the position and authority that Timothy had. It was very important for a young pastor. It is very important to anyone who wants to be a good witness to the grace of Jesus in our lives.

Is my progress in ministry and faith in Jesus evident to others? Paul assures Timothy that as he gives himself completely to his work, people will see his progress. I had to stop and think about this. I wanted to justify a lack of progress by thinking that I had progressed far enough that any further progress would be more difficult to see or achieve. That seemed logical until I reread the passage and understood that my progress is related to how much I give myself to the ministry. As I reflected again on David’s meditation, it is clear that progress is related directly to how much I’m yielded to God.

In order to be yielded to God, I need to be yielded to Jesus. In fact, Jesus needs to be the source of all my ministry, my being, and my life. He put it this way in John 15:4-6: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (NKJV)

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